Unearth Waco History Thousands of Years in the Making

Last updated on April 26, 2024 at 02:00 PM

Two men measuring bones at the mammoth dig site.

Even though the City of Waco is celebrating our 175th anniversary this year, our history dates to thousands of years ago when Columbian mammoths roamed across what is present-day Texas.


Person kneeled down next to fossil remains of a mammoth. In April 1978, local residents Paul Barron and Eddy Bufkin embarked on a search for arrowheads and fossils along a dry creek near Steinbeck Bend Road. To their surprise, the men stumbled upon a large bone that was eroding out of the ravine. Recognizing the unusual nature of the bone, Barron and Bufkin removed the bone and took it to Baylor University’s Strecker Museum for examination where the bone was identified as a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi).

This chance encounter sparked a multi-year excavation led by Strecker Museum staff. Using hand tools, such as brushes and bamboo scrapers, crews slowly started to unearth mammoth-sized history. Between 1978 and 1990, the fossil remains of 16 Columbian mammoths were discovered and Baylor anthropologists began developing a theory of the history of the mammoths. Over the following seven years, six additional mammoths were excavated, in addition to the remains of a large male bull (bull), a camel (Camelops hesternus), the tooth of a juvenile saber-tooth cat (Smilodon sp.), and an unidentified animal.

Opening to the Public

Photo of Dig Shelter at Waco Mammoth National Monument. In October 1996, Baylor’s Strecker Museum and the City of Waco established a partnership to preserve and promote the site. Over the following years, the City of Waco accepted multiple donations to piece together the 110-acre site that would later become a place for the public to visit and learn.

During this time, the site remained closed to the public. In 2002, the City of Waco, Baylor officials, and other interested groups started the process of developing the site into a tourist attraction. On December 5, 2009, the Waco Mammoth Site was officially opened, and a few years later in 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating the Waco Mammoth National Monument.

Uncovering the Mystery

Person taking notes at the mammoth dig site. How the animals died is still a mystery. One of the first hypotheses was that the animals perished in a catastrophic tragedy. However, recent geology research indicates the animals died in a series of events spread across many years.

Approximately 65,000 years ago, rapidly rising waters from the Bosque River flooded the site, and at least 19 mammoths from a nursery herd were trapped in a steep-sided channel and drowned. Two other events took place sometime later burying the other animals that were found with the mammoths.

The discovery of additional fossil material during the construction of the Dig Shelter will help further the research into when and how the Waco mammoths lived and died.


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